How to get good at basketball?
March 23, 2008 11:51 AM   Subscribe

How to get decent at basketball?

I've played basketball many times in my life (at least 1000 times), but never on an organized team other than intramurals. I'm usually the worst player on the floor.

How do I get better? Meaning, how do I become a better pick-up player?

I'm looking for skill sets that are good for pick-up (I've always been told that shooting is the most important skill, but I think ball handling is important). I'm looking for personal drills to do that are fun and rewarding. I figure playing alot is important, but even when I play with friends, it's hard to build confidence. Doesn't help that I'm typically the shortest guy on the court (5'6").

posted by sandmanwv to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've found that the best way to improve at a team sport is to play with other people who want to improve and do team drills, in addition to personal drills. Maybe you can find a group at work or school that does this, or find an adult-ed course where a teacher can coach you. A few sessions of clued instruction can go a long way to improve your game.
posted by zippy at 11:59 AM on March 23, 2008

Find a friend who has played organized ball to give you a few lessons. If she has coaching experience, even better. You can do all the drills you want, but getting tips from someone who knows the mechanics of shooting, ball handling, boxing out, positioning, etc. will dramatically improve your practical ability to perform well in pick-up games. I used to play all the time, and even though I'm pretty big and was in great shape at the time, I sucked. Then a friend taught me some really basic techniques and within a couple weeks I was truly mediocre.

Oh, and also, when playing full-court games against people with roughly similar skills, the people willing/able to sprint up and down the court after the first ten minutes of the game are the ones who will make the biggest contribution to their team.
posted by bluejayk at 12:09 PM on March 23, 2008

I find the best way is to play with people who are better than me. Go to the YMCA or a local court a find a pick-up game. You will be very humbled for the first few times but you will gradually pick up cues and you will start playing better.
posted by 913 at 12:40 PM on March 23, 2008

Consider an instructional DVD, for example:

I have no experience with this, but it seems worth a try.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:59 PM on March 23, 2008

Muggsy Bogues was 5'3", and had a long, successful NBA career.

There are many different ways to be effective on a basketball court.

I'd suggest picking just one or two aspects of the game, and really working on those. E.g., after making sure you have good shot mechanics, practice shooting from two different spots on the floor, exclusively, for a while. Then those become your killer spots. Unless the repetitive shooting bores you to death. Or maybe for the next 10 pickup games, work on getting steals. Develop your game a piece at a time.

Maybe you could tell us what you want to be able to do, or what's really enjoyable for you.

The reason shooting is important is that if you can't shoot, at all, then the other side doesn't guard you, and double teams your teammates.

If you have a taste for ball handling, then practice assorted layups, driving and finishing around the basket.

If you're playing with people who know how to play team ball, then learning to use plays (e.g., pick and roll), and communicate, can get a lot of results.
posted by coffeefilter at 2:28 PM on March 23, 2008

Best answer: Oh man, I love basketball. I grew up in Indiana and played basketball from 2nd grade through high school and beyond. I've had some great coaches and all have stressed fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. If you perfect your basic skill sets, your all-around game will follow.

I'd imagine you'd be playing guard or wing in your pick-up games, which means ball handling and control is extremely important. Keep in mind you have an automatic advantage being a shorter player as you can keep your dribble low and close to your body; taller defenders will have more trouble stealing from you. To perfect your dribbling skills, you'll want to be sure to work on ball control using both left and right hands -- giving special consideration to your "off" hand. Some drills you can run by yourself:

- Suicides with the Basketball: Be sure to alternate dribbling hands with each direction switch. Try to keep the ball below the waist and as close to your body (right or left side) as you can. Head and eyes should remain up and forward (so that in a game you're constantly scanning the floor, looking for open teammates).

- Dribbling Cross Over: The greatest guards have super slick cross overs that allow them to quickly get a step past their defender. Practice your cross over as your're dribbling, going in a zig-zag motion back and forth down the court. Keep the ball low (ideally your cross over is below the knee), close to your body.

- Figure 8 Dribbling Drill: This will help you strengthen your fingertips. You really never want the palm of your hand touching the ball, always your finger tips and finger pads. Keeping your head up is key.

Some other elements to work on from a stationary position or off the pass would be your fakes and pivots. Ball fakes, head and eye fakes, sweep pivots... these will also allow you to get a step on your defender to drive to the basket or get your shot off. There are a lot of neat little dribbling / faking drills you can do, search YouTube for "basketball dribbling drills" or "basketball triple threat" to find some more advanced ones if you're ready to move on.

If you'd like to work on your shooting, I'd suggest working on speeding up the release of your shot (Quick Release Shot) as well as footwork going into your shot off the dribble or pass. As a shorter player, I am too, you'll need to get rid of the ball quickly before your defender has a chance to block your shot. Some shooting drills:

- Dribble, cross over, and quick release drill: Notice how he releases the ball at the very top of his jump shot, very important.

- Inside Shooting Drill: This will help strengthen your shot and work on your form so that it's consistent. You'll want the ball to be released from and be caught on your finger tips / finger pads only. Your secondary guide hand should not be pushing the ball at all (such as the thumb), only guiding. Practice this with both hands.

Like everyone else has said, the more you play the more your own personal game will develop. Play against better caliber players and mimic the things you see them do. And, as with everything, confidence is key! Good luck!
posted by re.becca at 3:17 PM on March 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

I have been in your position before as I haven't played basketball on a "team" since I was in 5th grade, but I have always loved it. Modesty aside, I believe I am a rather good pick-up player in average games. I have done this mostly by practicing on my own.

Rebecca focused a lot on dribbling so I'll try concentrate on shooting. Depending on your position, dribbling may not be necessary. You can be very very effective in pick-up games without dribbling the ball once.

The key point is to focus on good technique rather than good results.

For instance with shooting. I have friends who think as long as a shot goes in they consider their "shot" (meaning their form, follow through, etc.) is good. Not surprisingly, these guys are streaky shooters at best and rarely trusted with an open shot. Whereas a guy who gets a shot to go in with bad technique will still chide himself and try to correct it. The benefit is then the guy that focuses on good technique will usually be able to tell what is going wrong when his shot is not falling and be able to fix it. This is where I believe the difference is between streaky shooters, who don't really know how they are getting the ball in, and pure shooters who know exactly what they are doing.

My main improvement with shooting came from watching a 3-minute tutorial by Steve Kerr, one of the best 3 pt. shooters in NBA history. He said, keep your feet shoulder width apart and even with each other (don't keep one foot in front), hold your shooting arm straight out in an L, bend your knees, jump straight up and follow through directly toward the basket. Simple ideas and while awkward at first, once I got used to shooting that way my percentage jumped drastically.

Being a good shooter in practice is a lot different than one in a game situation though. The ability to set your feet quickly and release your shot quickly is key. So, once you have those techniques down try and get through them as quick as you can. If you have a friend, have them pass the ball to you and then run at you at full speed to try to block your shot and see how quickly you can get it off.

Learn to shoot from a run, and just run to an open spot and get people to pass you the ball. If they see you can do that effectively they will learn to look for you as you are running to space.

Being good at defense and rebounding is 90% effort. Even at your size, fighting to get good position near the basket jumping for the ball can get you a bunch of rebounds. A drill I like to do is to stand in a good rebounding position and continually try to tap my own shots in. If it misses I try to rebound it and tap it back up as quickly as I can, and if it goes in I just try to catch and tap it right out of the hoop.
posted by Hypharse at 3:58 PM on March 23, 2008

Best answer: I am 5'9 and happen to be very good at basketball even when playing with really good tall players. I nearly always lead in rebounding. I am also usually faster than most people on the court...but that doesn't mean everything.

Easiest way to get better is to HUSTLE.

1. Play a lot.

2. Figure out what your team needs and do it.

3. Rebound the fuck out of the basketball. Learn where it is going and get there.
Most people don't give an effort to rebound. It is 90% effort and anticipation.

4. Don't fear the trashtalkers and don't reply to them. Instead just keep plugging away..

5. Block out.

6 Set screens

7. Don't apologize after screwing up. Focus on the next possession.

8. Keep space between you and the other offensive players.

9. Don't be afraid to shoot the ball. None of the other chumps on the court have the right to shoot more than you do. If necessary to avoid their nagging play some pick up ball with old players that usually play midmorning pick up games. You can dominate a bit more and learn some skills. Remember on offense your job is to put the goal in the hoop. So try to get there by any means necessary...lots of people seem to not understand this.

10. Keep moving on offense..keep moving.

11. Have a bit of an attitude but keep it inside your head.

12. Have fun and play with love.

13. Did I mention to play a zillion times and you will get better?

14. Don't dribble at top speed.

15. Shoot the last shot in the game and know you are going to make it. The other dudes who hog the ball usually choke when the game is on the line. So let them score the early baskets and you can win the game at the end.

Work hard and be relentless and your body will adjust in a few weeks and you will be better. After that you can learn how to play quickly without being in a hurry.

posted by tarvuz at 4:05 PM on March 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

The biggest weakness of most pick-up players is their inability to move intelligently without the ball. It's also the most overlooked talent, as evidenced by the other answers here (aside from tarvuz's, which is by far the best in the thread).
posted by mullacc at 4:14 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

On defense you can usually figure out within one pickup game how to reduce the shooting percentage of your man.

Most of us are one trick ponies on offense. So keep looking at where your man starts to initiate his move. After that you can jump his process before he starts it.

Can he shoot from outside? Then get in his face and let your guy behind you know to help out.

Get in his way all the time and don't move out of his way if he pushes into you. Don't shy away from contact but don't overdue it. You will be suprised at how many people just accept being bumped a bit. Bump their hips with your hips but not too much.

On help defense you will often notice some guys keep doing the same move. If they hold the ball too much you might have a chance to steal the ball if you sag off your man just a wee bit. I would save doing this move for the latter part of a game because you usually get one time to make a sneak move.

My best advice for defensive rebounds is to park your but just inside the 3 point line and the instant you know a shot is going up then rush in from outside and seal off the other players from where you think it will bounce. Don't be afraid to put your ass into them.

The more you do this the less most (90%) players will try to rebound a shot if you are near them. So you get to get more rebounds with less effort simply due to their expectations of you.

Also on D I would suggest trying to guard the really tricky dribbler scorer guy that is about your height because most people will simply expect him to make it. Well too bad for him that your new mission in life is to study him to the point you will annoy him all the time. He will try to punk you into not playing hard D. Well just keep playing it but with a healthy focus on the game and not his attitude. After a few days or weeks his complaining will turn to hard won respect. If it doesn't then keep doing it to him anyway because he is a dick.

Remember that your goal is to stop them from scoring and you can do anything within the rules(and whatever else your opponent lets you get away with) to achieve this.

Oh you will get embarrassed a lot on defense so I suggest not caring and keep focused on hustling and learning angles and tricks for each opposing player.

posted by tarvuz at 4:52 PM on March 23, 2008

I play a bi-weekly pickup game, and have been improving steadily, but my man is usually one of Tarvuz' tricky dribbler-scorer-trashtalkers. He's always calling blocks that seem more like charges to me, and I feel, like Tarvuz says, that he's trying to 'punk me into not playing hard D.' Any advice besides just ignoring it (which I do as often as I can)? Any good sources out there on the web for really learning how to play hard defense while avoiding those nuanced, defensive fouls?
posted by alas at 6:11 PM on March 23, 2008

Best answer: Oh man, I hope I'm not too late. Thank you for asking the question. For one thing, your self-awareness puts you way ahead so many ego-centric jerks that can ruin pickup games. I played in high school and college and never stopped. Even now at 51 I play weekly with a group of mostly current and ex-high school ex-college players. I think there's some excellent advice about shooting and individual skills but let me add soem thoughts:

1) Be aware of what's going on outside of just you and your man. Most players don't mind a lesser skilled player. We all suck in one way or another. But most seasoned hoopers are greatly annoyed by players who don't know where to go on the floor. For instance, don't stand in one place ... you're blocking a spot a cutter needs to move to and making the whole offense stagnate. Be aware of mismatches. Don't run where your man can come off of you and double team a teammmate in better offensive position. On D, don't just concentrate on your man and relax when he doesn't have the ball. Anticipate a teammate getting beat and be prepared to slide over and help out. Really, people who just run around without a purpose will aggravate most seasoned players. How do you get better? Play a lot. But think about why you're running every time you're running there. It'll become second nature.

2) Take your shots. Unless your games are ultra ultra competitive, no one should begrudge anyone a shot (you're there for fun just as they are) as long as it's within your competence zone. It's the people who jack up a shot just because they've calculated it's their turn who show up as amateurs.

3) Pass the ball quickly. Even if you're not a precise fancy passer, there's great value in smaller guys who occupy the top of the key area and know how to quickly swing the ball from one player to another. Be that guy.

4) Let the game come to you. In short, sometimes, you're just not going to shoot. You'll play an entire game where it's just not appropriate for you to shoot. Learn to take joy in all the little things. ("I spaced the floor well .... my man didn't go off crazy scoring ... I didn't turn the ball over ... I set great picks.)

And remember, even though you're not the top guy on your team, try to have a better plus/minus game against your man. If the #5, #4, #3 and #2 guys on your team outplay their opposites, you'll win even if they're #1 beats your #1.

God, I love basketball. It's like moving chess.
posted by lpsguy at 9:52 AM on March 24, 2008

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